He drained his third cup of watery tea to the dregs and set to chewing the crusts of fried bread that were scattered near him, staring into the dark pool of the jar. The yellow dripping had been scooped out like a boghole and the pool under it brought back to his memory the dark turf-coloured water of the bath in Clongowes. The box of pawn tickets at his elbow had just been rifled and he took up idly one after another in his greasy fingers the blue and white dockets, scrawled and sanded and creased and bearing the name of the pledger as Daly or MacEvoy.
1 Pair Buskins.
1 D. Coat.
3 Articles and White.
1 Man’s Pants.
Then he put them aside and gazed thoughtfully at the lid of the box, speckled with louse marks, and asked vaguely:
—How much is the clock fast now?
His mother straightened the battered alarm clock that was lying on its side in the middle of the mantelpiece until its dial showed a quarter to twelve and then laid it once more on its side.
—An hour and twenty-five minutes, she said. The right time now is twenty past ten. The dear knows you might try to be in time for your lectures.
—Fill out the place for me to wash, said Stephen.
—Katey, fill out the place for Stephen to wash.
—Boody, fill out the place for Stephen to wash.
—I can’t, I’m going for blue. Fill it out, you, Maggy.
When the enamelled basin had been fitted into the well of the sink and the old washing glove flung on the side of it he allowed his mother to scrub his neck and root into the folds of his ears and into the interstices at the wings of his nose.
—Well, it’s a poor case, she said, when a university student is so dirty that his mother has to wash him.
—But it gives you pleasure, said Stephen calmly.
An ear-splitting whistle was heard from upstairs and his mother thrust a damp overall into his hands, saying:
—Dry yourself and hurry out for the love of goodness.
A second shrill whistle, prolonged angrily, brought one of the girls to the foot of the staircase.
—Is your lazy bitch of a brother gone out yet?
The girl came back, making signs to him to be quick and go out quietly by the back. Stephen laughed and said:
—He has a curious idea of genders if he thinks a bitch is masculine.
—Ah, it’s a scandalous shame for you, Stephen, said his mother, and you’ll live to rue the day you set your foot in that place. I know how it has changed you.
—Good morning, everybody, said Stephen, smiling and kissing the tips of his fingers in adieu.
The lane behind the terrace was waterlogged and as he went down it slowly, choosing his steps amid heaps of wet rubbish, he heard a mad nun screeching in the nuns’ madhouse beyond the wall.